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Company Officer Leadership: Managing Administrative Processes

We all probably joined the fire and emergency service for pretty much the same reasons: to help others, to have a career in an exciting field and, as one of my former chiefs used to say, to "put the wet stuff on the red stuff and the band-aids on the boo-boos."

I'm just guessing, but I don't think many of us joined the fire service because we wanted to do a lot of paperwork or become a manager who dealt with a lot of administrative processes. Somewhere along the way, however, many of us have found the administrative side of our jobs as company officers to be a great deal of what we do on a daily basis.

As a young firefighter, I never really gave much thought to the importance of my department's administrative areas. I just couldn't bring myself to believe that anyone who joined a fire department would want to deal with the endless piles paperwork it takes to keep everything running as they thought it should.

Besides, the firefighting and EMS duties were what was really important. All that admin stuff seemed to do was get in the way of field staff taking care of the real business. And while the service we deliver in the field is truly why we're all here, it has become apparent over the past several years that a staff of dedicated, trained administrative personnel at all levels of a department is truly what keeps it moving forward.

I don't know of any chiefs, or any other officers for that matter, who wouldn't like to be out running calls with their crews and taking care of the public on a face-to-face basis. And while most of these individuals will find a way to sneak out of the office from time to time to be in the field, most recognize the importance of the administrative processes they manage.

On a daily basis, any one of us could be called upon to step up to the plate and take on some (additional) administrative duties. Whether those duties include policy development and review, recruitment and retention, staff scheduling, purchasing or any other duty in the myriad administrative processes that must be dealt with daily, it's up to us to make sure they're handled as efficiently as possible.

As we start moving up in rank in our departments, the administrative load will continue to increase. It's just a fact of the business we're in. While having command presence at a scene and being tactically competent are very important, so is being able to manage those issues we face every day that require we dive into the role of administrator.

For example, if we don't handle recruitment of new members properly, we run the risk of adding members to our team who don't belong in this line of work. What would happen to our departments if we didn't check the background of our applicants and wound up with an individual with a history of criminal behavior wearing our uniforms and representing our departments?

What if we just didn't worry about developing new policies and procedures to keep our people safe? What if no one took care of the administrative process required to purchase new gear and apparatus?

At this point, I'm sure a few of you are wondering what the point of this article is. What I'm getting at is that it takes more than "putting the wet stuff on the red stuff and the band-aids on the boo-boos" to keep the apparatus rolling and the firefighters safe on the fireground. While it may seem boring and not worth the effort sometimes, the administrative processes are every bit as important to serving the community as other sets of tasks.

When we decide to promote up, we need to realize we'll need to spend less time with the crews in the field and more time making sure the crews have what they need to serve our customers. So, take on those processes with pride, just as you would when responding to an emergency. Come to work every day, every shift, knowing that what you do is important and must be done with passion.

Captain Mike Jaffa, of the Santa Fe (N.M.) County Fire Department, is chair of the IAFC Company Officer Leadership Committee.

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